Howdy, Sir James & the Martin-Baker Staff,
“Beware the Ides of March” is notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar…..and a turning point in Roman history….as well as being a “turning point” in my own personal aviation history.
This is my annual announcement to you, Sir James, of how much I owe to that “Martin-Baker Magical Chair” that has saved so many aviator’s lives.
It was 53 years ago today, on Friday, the 15th of March, 1968, that your “Magical Chair” lifted me out of a dying F4-C Phantom II in Southern Laos, and put me “into the Silk”…..that lovely British parachute silk which let me down gently…..right into the tops of a 250’ jungle tree canopy.
I was leading an F-4C 2-ship out of Cam Ranh Bay AB, RVN (12th TFWg/557th TFS) interdicting logistics, truck traffic and storage “hides” on the Ho Chi Minh Trail near Saravane when my aircraft (F-4C 63-7701—a 391st TFS bird) took direct hits from anti-aircraft fire. The right engine decided to explode, and take with it most of the aircraft systems.
I was able to nurse the bird up to 13,000 feet, and get us—my backseater and I—13 miles west of the target area (it is NOT GOOD….to parachute into “the Hornet’s Nest” at the target!)…… before the airplane started rolling uncontrollably (total hydraulic failure). I was told later that the trail of fire was longer than the aircraft! An important aviator’s “creed” is to know your aircraft—the F-4 models all had direct rudder cables to the rudder, so…….I was able to stop the rotation momentarily upright, by standing on the rudder heavily, allowing us both to eject upright.
While floating down into the trees, I watched the Phabulous Phantom II rotating, spinning and gyrating in its death throes, until it exploded in mid-air a few thousand feet above the ground.
The recently issued parachute tree lowering device got me down, most of the way, out of the tree-tops…..and then jammed, leaving me hanging in mid-air about 25’ above the ground…..big bummer!!! So, after a rather long drop, and a painful and sudden stop!, I was able to walk on the ground in Laos for a couple of hours…..along with trying to hide behind some trees (not really a great camouflage solution!). My backseater was on the other side of a ridge—I had no way to communicate with him. The first aircraft over us was an Air America O-1 Bird Dog—unable to assist in the rescue. Finally, after what seemed to be a day—or TWO—of waiting to be picked up, the USAF Combat Search and Rescue Sikorsky HH-3 “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter arrived, and reeled us both up through the trees with jungle tree penetrator—great device! Ever since that day, Jolly Green drivers and crew drink for free at MY bar!…..
So, here I am….STILL alive, these many years after the Ides of March of 1968…….that “turning point” in my personal aviation history.
But, time does move on, and some are no longer with us. I attach a photo of the celebration held upon my return that same evening to our WWII Quonset hut living quarters at Cam Ranh Bay AB, RVN.
3 of the “557th TFS Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” were present in the photo, to celebrate/drink to my health upon my return to “home base” (the 4th was flying that night).
Guess they were happy to see me back.
Sadly, Capt Toby Hughes (Lt.Col., USAF, Retired)……on the RIGHT in the photo, has passed away……on Monday, 18 January 2021. Slo hand salute; Nickel on the Grass. Toby also sat on Martin-Baker seats in the F-4C for his year in Vietnam, and subsequent fighter pilot tours, although he did NOT have to “use” one! Of note….he is the composer and singer/troubadour of the Vietnam conflict song, “Tchepone”……about attacking another Ho Chi Minh Trail logistical crossroads in Laos. For your interest and perhaps information, I offer the URL below……written by John F. Guilmartin, Jr., USAF Academy Class of 1962, who was awarded two Silver Stars as a HH-3 “Jolly Green Giant” aircraft commander and combat instructor pilot during the Vietnam War.
Thank YOU!, Sir James…..and THANKS to all your great Martin-Baker employees …… for giving me 53 more years of LIFE, since that day—15 March 1968.
The picture is an actual photo of me and 2 of my 3 “hooch-mates” in the living quarters at Cam Rahn Bay AB, RVN, on the evening of my return from being picked up by “Jolly Green” HH-3 (Sikorsky) helicopter in Laos. A LOOOONG, COOL ONE was the order of the day (or, evening!).